Graduates 'make a long lasting difference to outcomes'

Hannah Crown
Thursday, December 10, 2020

Settings which employ a graduate are linked with improved outcomes for children which last up to the end of primary school, new analysis suggests.

These improvements apply to all children – disadvantaged or not - who spend at least 15 hours per week in a setting.

The two-year study, based on census data of 6 million children in PVI settings over the past 10 years, finds that having a staff member with QTS, EYTS or EYPS corresponds to an improved early years foundation stage profile score of 0.3, and this is sustained to some extent until at least the age of 11.

Report co-author Sara Bonetti said, ‘Considering that this is based on census data from 6m children, this clearly shows that graduates make a difference. You can’t expect them to work miracles – we are looking at one staff member per early years setting - but there is definitely a positive association with children’s outcomes, and this is over the long term.’

Dr Bonetti added other studies – some from the US - show a positive impact drops off after a couple of years. ‘We didn’t find that. Against research that shows there is a fade out effect, we found very small but continuing positive associations all through key stage two.

‘We also find there isn’t a massive difference whether graduates are in the classroom or at leadership level – so we should be having more conversations about leadership models and their effects.’

The Education Policy Institute analysis also found the number of hours children spend in early years education where a graduate is present made a crucial difference to outcomes. Children who attended settings for more than 15 hours per week showed better EYFSP scores than those doing fewer than 15 hours.  

It said ‘the association between staff qualifications and children’s outcomes at age five is twice as strong among those children who were registered to attend for more than 15 hours per week than among those who were registered for less.

‘While this association could be driven by the link between longer hours at settings and coming from a wealthier background, our analysis shows that the positive association is still present when focusing on the most disadvantaged children….This finding suggests that opening up the 30 hours of funded childcare to the most disadvantaged children (who are currently excluded) could be beneficial, especially when their setting has a graduate.’

Dr Bonetti added that she doesn’t want to just advocate for a blanket extension of 30 hours to all children. ‘We need to be looking into how to extend the 30 hours – making sure that the quality doesn’t go if you increase the quantity’ she added.

Some degrees also showed more of an impact than others, with QTS showing better results than EYPS – 0.3 and 0.15 of an EYFSP point respectively.

The report, the final in a series on the early years workforce funded by the Nuffield Foundation, goes on to acknowledge that while a third of an EYFSP point score is very small when compared with, for example, the 3.6 point gap in EYFSP scores between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children, this isn’t unexpected.

‘Part-time and/or erratic attendance of early years settings, even when of high quality, cannot be expected to offset all of the disadvantages faced by children growing up in poverty. Similarly, we cannot expect a small proportion of highly qualified staff to create systemic change in quality when the majority of the workforce has low qualification levels. … It may be unrealistic to expect the qualification level of a single staff member alone to be strongly associated with children’s outcomes when staff working in PVI settings are generally low paid … and have insufficient access to continuing professional development.’

In addition to considering extending the 30 hours entitlement, the report also recommends that the government should assess the impact of deploying different types of early years staff, including those with higher qualifications, and review early years degrees to assess how well they prepare graduates for work. 

  • A second study, also released by the EPI today, finds that there are 320 different early years degrees on the UCAS application system, which vary considerably in terms of entry requirements, age focus, course content and work-placement arrangements, and have little common core or shared set of standards. These inconsistencies, combined with the lack of financial incentives for graduates, 'may be hindering degree take-up', it finds.


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